Eating Healthy on a Budget

Written by Allina Health dietician, Michele Schaper MS, RD, LD

As a dietitian one of the most common things I hear is “I can’t eat healthy, it is too expensive”. There are many ways to start saving so that the easy choice is to choose healthy. Here are some healthy tips that will help meet your budget.

Plan Ahead

Plan your meals and snacks for the week before going to the grocery store. Cross check the recipes to what you already have on hand to make your shopping list. When you shop with a list, you will be less likely to purchase other items you really don’t need.  Although, this takes time initially eventually you will be able to recycle your weekly meal and snack plans.

Buy Store or Generic Brands

Both store and generic brands may not be packaged as “pretty” as the name brand product, but other than that they will have nearly the same ingredients. Both store brand and generic brands will typically cost much less than the national brand, without sacrificing taste.

Shopping Tips at the Grocery Store

Shop the perimeter of the store as much as possible – this is where you will find the basics of a healthy diet – fruits, veggies, dairy, and lean meats.  To find the best deal on similar products start by looking at the unit prices, which show the price per pound or ounce. This information can be found on the price tag.

How to Shop Fruits and Veggies

Purchasing in-season produce will be cheaper and at its most flavorful. When not in season opt for the “fresh frozen” version which can be just as healthy. Avoid packages that have sauces or special seasonings as they will have added sodium and/or fat.  Fruits and veggies tend to be cheaper in bulk and will help stretch to more meals.  When purchasing canned foods make sure they are packed in their own juices or water and watch out for high sodium levels.  Avoid bagged/washed/pre-cut fruits and veggies as these are more expensive and you will get less quantity for your money.

How to shop Meats

Refer to the Plate Method Portions – Try not to think of the meat as the main dish but more like a side dish for meals. Avoid purchasing marinated and/or prepared meats-these are more expensive-do the prep work yourself to save money.  Preparing soups, stews, and chili’s packed full of vegetables and grains will allow less meat to fill you up and again help to meet your budget.  Try to plan two or more meatless meals per week and substitute with nutritious legumes. Avoid marinated and/or prepared meats – these are more expensive – do the prep-work yourself to save some money.

Portion Size Counts

Check in and look at your portions-eating too much of even lower cost foods can add up to extra dollars.  A simple step to help in reducing portions is to start with smaller plates, glasses, and bowls.  Follow guidelines from the USDA –“choose my plate” , fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one quarter with whole grains, and the other quarter with lean meat (poultry, seafood or beans) and complete the meal with one cup of milk or dairy equivalent. Often our idea of what a portion size is tends to be significantly more than what is intended-driving up cost and calories.

Eat in More and Eat out Less

Many foods prepared at home are not only cheaper but healthier too.  Living in the digital world has some wonderful benefits where you can now find several websites that can help guide you in weekly meal planning that is simple to prepare, family friendly, and less expensive.  Finding recipes with the use of the following ingredients will not only help stretch your food dollars but will also contribute to nutritious meals: legumes (beans), lentils, sweet and white potatoes, eggs (in moderation), natural nut butters, oats, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, frozen vegetables and fruits, oranges, bananas, and canned tuna to name a few. (See Healthy Food and Price Chart for average price of ingredients in the Midwest.)

Check out our “Grocery Store Virtual Tour” and “Marketing Mania” lessons to help you and your family make the most out of your shopping trips to the supermarket.